My Three “Only” Children

I can’t believe I haven’t written about my children yet. They are without a doubt my favorite topic of conversation and my main claim to fame. I have never been particularly ambitious and still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, but I always knew I wanted to have children. And I definitely got some good ones. They are extremely intelligent, funny, compassionate individuals. They are also hard-working, independent, moral beings, who hold high standards and care about the common good. Even if they weren’t related to me, I would like and admire these people. Together they have taught me many of the important things I know.

My older son, Matthew, is a captain in the Army and the most serious of the three, but he has a wicked sense of humor and a way of looking at the world that shines a bright light on absurdity and hypocrisy. He enjoys collecting photos of signs that are just “wrong” and sharing them on Facebook. Recently, he asked me, “Am I the only one that sees these things?” The fact that he has maintained any sense of humor at all is rather miraculous, after three deployments to war zones in the past ten years (twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan). He was in college in New York when the Trade Center towers came down, and he enlisted immediately under a deferred enlistment plan, determined to do something in response. He reported for duty the day after he graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology. Over the years he has taught me much about perseverance and indomitable spirit.

Melissa is a nurse and the mother of a three-year-old son Ian. Technically, Melissa is not my child, but she lived with us for several months when she and Matthew were both thirteen, so I claim her anyway. For years she has called me Aunt Mom (and now her son calls me Aunt Grandma). Her husband thinks that makes us all sound like a bunch of hicks, but I love it. These days, she is doing an amazing job balancing her work as a nurse with raising an energetic three-year-old and maintaining a house. This week she posted on Facebook that the plumber was coming “to save her basement from the poop fountain.” Melissa has taught me that even when life really sucks, you can still maintain your positive outlook and sense of humor. She is one of the most open, generous, and kindhearted people I know.

Isaac, the youngest, is a PhD student in molecular biology, currently spending his second season in Antarctica doing research, but he has never let hard work get in the way of a good time. He makes friends everywhere he goes and has never run short of ideas for fun things to do. Many of the photos I have seen from McMurdo Station in blogs and on Facebook show him playing guitar or dressed up in a fish costume at the Halloween party or standing out in the snow for an Occupy Antarctica photo shoot. Isaac enjoys life and has always just assumed things would go his way. More often than not, they do. When he was in middle school, he once asked if he could have money for a field trip. When I asked how much money and where they were going, he said nonchalantly, “$1000. France.” His wife is meeting him in Sydney, Australia, in December, when he comes off the Ice. From him I have learned that friends are important, and it “never hurts to ask for what you want.”

I am so thankful that these wonderful young people are part of my life. The world is a better place because they are in it.


A New Year

I have taken down most of my Christmas decorations and packed the ornaments away under the stairs in a plastic box with a green lid. On the lid is a label made of masking tape on which one of my sons once wrote the words, “Traditional Ornaments” in his confident childscript. It always makes me smile, wondering what the word “traditional” means to an eight-year-old. This year I decided to take the time to sort through everything and only pack away those things that still bring me joy. The rest I may sell on Ebay or give away to friends and family. I had already mailed away two small boxes of ornaments and lights to my sons before Christmas. Both have recently moved into new apartments and do not have money to spend on anything frivolous; I thought they might enjoy some of the ornaments we used to hang on our tree when they lived at home. I hope they found some joy in the objects; it was not my intent to burden them with mere possessions.

When I was young, I enjoyed collecting Christmas ornaments to commemorate travels or special moments of my life, and I looked forward to unwrapping the memories each year when I put up my tree. The year my dad moved out, my mother and I both put up live trees for the first time (one in my bedroom and one in the living room), and I bought several ornaments from an import shop in Lexington, Kentucky, for my very own tree: a wooden crèche inside a walnut half; angels made of tiny pinecones spray-painted gold; a small wooden dwarf with a long beard, a tiny pipe, and wire glasses; and several dozen small golden balls. Each year after that I would add to the collection, but I never wrote down where I got each ornament or what it was supposed to commemorate, thinking I would never forget. The years my first husband and I lived in the antique store on a tree-lined street named Rosemont Gardens, I kept the ornaments out year round, on small ledges that lined the kitchen walls and were intended for displaying decorative plates; I was devastated when our puppy chewed up an entire set of German musicians carved out of native woods, leaving only one tiny violin undamaged.For a while, I looked for a replacement set but never saw another just like it.

As I sort through the ornaments, it is most difficult to know what to do with the angels, beginning with the littlest baby angel, a wee blond thing cradled in the crest of the moon, acquired the Christmas after our daughter Megan was stillborn one silent day in May. The following year another baby angel decked our tree, this time a red-headed boy sitting on an acrylic cloud, after we lost our son Morgan in October. And every year after, angels continued to arrive in pairs: ceramic baby angels swinging on candy canes, country angels wearing gingham, angels woven out of straw, paper-mâché angels in stiff gowns, batiked angels, angels embroidered with shiny red threads in China, angels molded out of clear plastic, shimmering gold angels, dazzling glass angels. If they had lived, by now Megan would be twenty-six, Morgan twenty-five. When I meet new people and they ask how many children I have, I still pause (wanting to blurt out “four”) before answering, “two: a son who is thirty and a son who is twenty-three,” all the while seeing the shadowy outlines of their siblings in the space between.